owner of Marlinespike Chandlery talks about craftsmanship | Advantages of the island
by Monique Labbé
Tim Whitten, owner of Marlinespike Chandlery on Main Street in Stonington, describes his mind as “creatively technical”. Rightly so, because he is a successful rope artist who also holds a PhD. in mechanical engineering.
“My mind works differently, I think,” Whitten said during a customer conversation at his store on Monday, July 11. “When I close my eyes, it’s like seeing these geometric images.”
These images inspired the design of some of the knots Whitten uses to make bell strings, which are on display and for sale in his shop.
“I think art and science, the more you delve into the two individually, seem to merge together, in a sense,” Whitten said. “I think that’s why I was so drawn to this job.”
In addition to bell ropes, Whitten also makes stone necklaces, rope mats, chest becket, and dizzying bags. The process of learning all of this, he said, came both from the books and from his own imagination.
“When you look at the books, they kind of give you a guideline on what it’s supposed to look like, but they don’t really tell you how to do it step by step,” he said.
For Whitten, however, his “creatively technical” mind could see how this was supposed to play out.
“I remember opening the book for the first time and looking at the drawings and thinking I could just see it. Part of the learning experience was learning how to put each component together, ”he said.
The Connecticut native, whose parents were both born in Maine, spent several family vacations on the coast, though he had never been to Deer Isle until a chance trip visited. to some friends. Whitten said he was at a point in his life when moving was a possibility and that while visiting the area he fell in love with the island’s artisan culture.
“There is an energy here, people are so drawn to the arts in so many different mediums,” said Whitten. “I think what my work has become has evolved from simple traditional rope work to a more creative application of techniques. “
This development led Whitten to continue not only to work with rope, but also working with wood and even metals for some parts.
When he opened his store in 2008 in downtown Stonington, Whitten said he didn’t really have a clue what it was going to become. “I never expected the store to evolve into what it is now. When I opened, I was just planning to sell the things I was making, but I quickly realized that the store would be empty if I didn’t have other things to sell, ”he said. -he declares.
As such, Whitten found unique mirrors, pieces of cork, old cards, postcards, and other items for sale in the shop. These items are on display intertwined throughout the store and are even used to help display one’s own artwork.
Whitten’s business has grown nationally and internationally, he said. He has bonded over the years through shows and the internet, and even contracted with an upholsterer in London who sold some of Whitten’s work to the well-to-do population of London.
“I have been lucky with the people I have met along the way and am able to produce enough business to stay open year round in a very seasonal location,” he said. .
“The stuff I sold in London, one of the pieces even went to a prince,” he added with a chuckle.
Whitten considers himself an educated man, having attended graduate school and then a university professor for a few years after graduation. Despite all of his education, there is a part of himself that he thinks is better than even his brain.
“As educated as my brain is, I think my hands are better,” he said.